On This Page
David writes: I am deeply touched by the idea of Judaism without walls. My heart is smarting after going to a Reform Rabbi to discuss my converstion to Judaism. I felt I was ready. I have been pursuing conversion for five years and have been very thoughtful about it. I have imported Judaism in my life as my basic operating system. This issue I have is I believe Hashem reveals truth in many forms and many ways. There is much to learn from many sources. I accept Judaism as my basic, primary, fundamental source. But, I am up against the wall when I feel, as I felt the Rabbi expected, that it must be the exclusive source.
Dear David: Thank you for your thoughtful question. I will try to answer you point by point.
I come from a Christian Fundamentalist background which is very exclusive and binary. I cannot accept any belief system which becomes exclusive, absolute, and annihilates other people and beliefs. I dont really believe that Judaism is like this in substance, but in form, I have had different experiences.
Judaism does not annihilate other people and beliefs. Judaism accepts that there are other valid religious expressions. However, these religious expressions are not considered valid for one who is Jewish. When one joins the Jewish community, one makes a choice for Judaism and one chooses to set aside other religious practices. If a person is not comfortable with this, then conversion to Judaism is not really the proper spiritual path for him or her.
The specific issue is I need to be with people who are working on their stuff! This involves looking into our hearts, and inner world, being totally honest about what is in there, and working toward a clean heart and renew a right spirit within me. I feel that only by having a clean heart, I can be open and receptive to Hashem. BUT, I have not found Jewish groups in or out of Synagogues which have this focus.
The Jewish road toward what you describe is a personal one which is acted out through prayer, meditation and personal communication with God. This is not considered a group activity, except for the fact that praying with a minyon (a group of ten Jews) is considered a particularly meritorious type of spiritual action. You havent found any Jewish groups that do this as a group activity because what you describe is not a Jewish model for spiritual growth. This is not to say that there is anything wrong with what you describe. It may be very helpful. Its just not part of Jewish spiritual activity.
So I have been going to a Unity Center which does. This center is very inclusive. It draws truth from many sources. The Rabbi I spoke to about conversion was very disturbed about this because I was not finding what I needed totally under the Tent of Judaism. So he felt I was not ready.
Unity is Christian in nature and has many excellent spiritual practices. Unitarian Universalist fellowships are also like this. Neither of these are Jewish, but it may be that these are more comfortable for you because they are your true spiritual path. The Rabbi who was working with you on conversion was not wrong in suggesting that, if Unity is comfortable for you, Judaism may not be the choice for you. Its not so much that youre not finding everything under the Jewish tent. Rather, the fact that you find another faith/religious group fulfilling is a signal that, for whatever reason, Judaism does not fulfill your needs. This doesnt mean that you cant continue those Jewish practices that are important to you. However, doing so does not make you Jewish.
So what is the question? Must I find everything I need spiritually under the Tent of Judaism in order to be ready to convert?
Yes. Conversion to Judaism is much more than the adoption of religious practices. It is becoming a member of a family and requires total commitment to the family, its traditions and the carrying out of family responsibilities. Conversion to Judaism carries with it significant risks for the individual including job discrimination, social discrimination and becoming subject to anti-semitism. Unless you cannot live without converting to Judaism, you should not consider this as an option.
I am totally clear that I am not a Christian or an adherent to another faith. I find a wonderful diversity of thought and form under the tent, but I have great difficulty believing that any way of thinking, including Judaism, has all the truth there is.
Judaism does not have all the truth, but for a Jew, the only place to look for the answers is within the tradition. If you cannot commit to doing this, you should not consider conversion to Judaism.
Where can I find groups, places under the Jewish tent that focus on clean hearts, and not just the cerebral study of Torah and the writings?
Text study and prayer are major components in Judaism. However, both the Renewal Movement and the Reconstructionist Movement may hold more of what youre looking for. The Renewal Movement has a website, http://www.aleph.org/, as does the Reconstructionist Movement, http://www.shamash.org/frch/. I hope that my answers have helped to clarify things for you. Please feel free to stay in touch with me.
David from New Zealand writes: Rabbi David, I am writing from down under in New Zealand. Would you confirm for me please that in the U.S Conservative rabbis accept Jews who have converted under reform auspices?
Dear David: In general, U.S. Conservative rabbis accept Jews who have converted under Reform auspices. Liberal Conservative rabbis generally do not inquire if mila and mikvah were observed. However, some Conservative rabbis will ask and will require that mila and mikvah were part of the conversion in order to accept a convert who was converted under the auspices of a Reform beit din.
Angelina writes: I have never been raised in a religious home, and have developed my own beliefs. They are Jewish beliefs. I have been thinking of converting for quite some time now. I have also been reading and studying about Jewish history and sprituality. My problem is, where do I start? I have been trying to look for classes near my area to study more, also trying to get in contact with friendly rabbis. So far no luck yet. Also, how are African American converts accepted in the Jewish community? If there is a way someone can help get me started; it would be very much appreciated. I need guidance.
Dear Angelina: There are many African American Jews by Choice (converts) and born Jews in American congregations today. However, many rabbis feel uncomfortable converting an African American who is not part of a Jewish family or who is not in a relationship with a person who is Jewish. This is because of a fear that the African American person may find it difficult to build a network of Jewish friends within the congregation if he or she does not already have a point of entry like a Jewish spouse or relative. This is not an unrealistic concern, but it does not have to be a reason for turning down someone who truly wishes to become Jewish.
A visitor to the Web site writes: I live/work in Bangkok, Thailand. I have been unofficially studying towards an Orthodox conversion to Judaism. However, I feel that I want to officially start studying with an Orthodox Rabbi and formally convert to Judaism.
Dear Friend: This is a problem. Most rabbis are very reluctant to convert someone who will not have the support of a Jewish community. Also, because of the size of the Jewish community in Bangkok, its unlikely that you can really get a sense of what it means to live as part of the Jewish community. I had this problem myself, working with congregants in a small town in America. Most of the people who wanted to convert had never spent any significant time with Jews! Because Judaism is a community religion, most rabbis feel that more exposure to Jewish people is needed before conversion, if the potential convert has never lived in a major Jewish center or interacted with many Jewish people.
Kim from New Jersey writes: I have been interested in Judaism for a very long time. I would like to know, how do I begin studying Judaism? Do I have to go to a synagogue to begin my studies? Are there classes on Judaism that are offered at a local synagogue?
Dear Kim: The first step is to find a rabbi and congregation that you like. There are many different ways to study for conversion. Each rabbi has different requirements and options. I would suggest that you find a Reform or Reconstructionist community in your area. If you need some help with this, you can search out the Reform congregation website (uahc.org) or the reconstructionist website (www.jrf.org/). Also, please feel free to stay in touch with me.
Sara from Manhattan asks: What is the Rabbis view on same-gender relationships?
Dear Sara: In my opinion, same-gender relationships are the same as opposite-gender relationships. Some heterosexual relationships are based on a foundation of mutual trust and respect, while others are not. The same is true of same-gender relationships. To me, the issue is not one of sexual parts and how they fit together, but rather, of the caring, respect, self-respect, and willingness to share that people bring to a relationship. Any relationship based on true love, caring, and a desire to help ones partner realize his or her full potential as a human being is holy. It is for this reason that I joyfully officiate at same sex unions. I believe that any relationship that a couple wishes to sanctify in the presence of friends and family is a cause for celebration. I believe that children who grow up with loving parents are truly blessed, and that children of a loving and supportive same gender relationship have the same chance at happiness and a healthy life as children of loving and supportive heterosexual couples.
This is a question that younger children often ask. From the Biblical point of view, the dinosaurs must have been alive at the time of Adam and Eve, because God made the animals before making people and the Bible suggests that all the animals lived with Adam and Eve.
From the scientific point of view, to the best of our knowledge, the dinosaurs predated human beings. However, this does not necessarily mean that there was no Adam and Eve; it just suggests that the dinosaurs became extinct before Adam and Eve were created.
In Judaism, we believe that the six days of creation may have described a different type of measured time. Without disbelieving the Torah, we can accept the idea that each of the six days of creation may not have been days of twenty-four hours each, but possibly days of a million or more years.
Can you please give tell me nine reasons for the existence of God
Nine of the reasons for believing in God, in my opinion, are:
Tzedaka is the Hebrew word for charity and comes from the Hebrew word Tzedek, which means righteousness. One who gives tzedaka is a person who is living his or her life in a way that is pleasing to the Holy One.
Jewish law teaches us that even the poorest person must give tzedaka. There are many different traditions regarding the giving of tzedaka. One of the most enduring is that a person should put some money into a special box (a tzedaka box) every Friday before the beginning of the Sabbath. When this box is filled, the money is given to one or many charities.
Many Jews today remember the light blue metal boxes that hung in their mothers or grandmothers kitchen. These were distributed by the Jewish National Fund, an organization that is dedicated to planting trees in Israel. If you go to Israel today, you can see how a hundred years of pennies, nickles and dimes have made the desert flourish. The making of beautiful tzedaka boxes is a traditional Jewish craft. However, a tzedaka box need not be fancy to fulfill its important function in a household. Here is a very easy way to make a tzedaka box. Take a coffee can with a plastic lid or a plastic take-out container with a lid. Cut a hole in the lid and write the name of the selected charity on a piece of paper. Tape the paper onto the container. Instant tzedaka box!
For all these reasons, actively seeking converts is not part of the activity of the Jewish community.
There are a number of different labels in use today that describe Jewish religious practice. The most common of these are Reform, Conservative, and Orthodox. Many people think these labels are the same as Baptist or Lutheran. For this reason, some people thinking about conversion assume that they need to choose a specific type of Judaism for their conversion.
The terms Reform, Conservative, and Orthodox, however, do not define different theologies of Judaism. Rather, they describe variations in religious practice that typify what are called movements within Judaism (e.g., the Reform Movement).
A person who converts to Judaism is simply Jewish; not Reform Jewish or Conservative Jewish. On a practical level, however, each of the movements has its own approach to conversion. In the United States, conversions performed according to Jewish law are accepted across all movements.
The Hebrew word Kasher (kosher) is first found in the Torah. Kasher is used to describe animals that may or may not be eaten by the Israelites. The meaning of the term kashruth (from kasher) means fitness okay to eat. Animals that do not both chew their cud and have a cloven hoof are not kosher. Cows, sheep, goats and certain types of deer are kosher. Pigs are not. Only fish that have scales and fins are kosher. Seafood like clams, shrimp, and lobster are not kosher.
Some things make a normally kosher animal not kosher. For example, a kosher animal must be slaughtered according to Jewish law. A kosher animal that is found dead is not kosher.
Another category of kashruth is based on the three commandments in the Torah that say, You shall not boil a kid in its mothers milk. (Exodus 23:19; 34:26; Deuteronomy 14:21). Based on this prohibition, traditional Jews do not eat meat and dairy products mixed together or even served at the same meal. Cheeseburgers are not kosher. From about the Second Century B.C.E. onward, the rabbis expanded the laws of kashruth to cover processed foods. If products like wine or cookies are intended to be eaten by people who observe the laws of kashruth, these foods must have a label that clearly shows that they are kosher.
Vegetables and fish are considered neutral. They can be eaten with any other type of food. Which brings us back to marijuana.
There are no unkosher or kosher plants. Therefore, marijuana cannot be classified in this way, and the issue of whether or not one may eat or smoke it is not a kashruth issue. This is not to say that it is okay to use marijuana, according to Jewish law.
One of the problems about marijuana is that it is an illegal substance in the United States. Since Jewish law teaches that Jews must follow the civil law of the land, a Jew who uses marijuana as a recreational drug is violating both secular law and Jewish law.
The use of marijuana for medicinal purposes is a different issue. Jewish law puts the preservation of life above all other laws. If using marijuana would preserve a persons life, technically the civil law banning the use of marijuana could be violated according to Jewish law.
A person wishing to use marijuana in this way, however, could not just decide to do so. He or she would have to get a ruling from a rabbi about whether or not using this drug would be permitted in his or her specific case. Most rabbis would look for alternatives that would not break the law.
Jews believe that there is no beginning or end to God, so technically, God does control and rule everything. We also believe that God helps us and loves us. However, God gave all living creatures free will. Because of this, God cannot interfere when those creatures whether human, animal or even microbes and viruses use their free will. When something bad happens, I believe that this is because of random factors caused by free will. I dont think that bad things that happen are Gods punishment. God cant interfere with free will or it wouldnt be free. This is not to suggest that there arent miracles, or that we shouldnt pray for Gods help. Theres a meditation in the Jewish prayerbook that says, Pray as though everything depended upon God. Act as though everything depended upon you.
This reminds us that we are in partnership with God. Prayer and love of God is important in helping us to feel supported and safe. Our own actions are important because we are humans living in a human world. This gives us special power to change things in our life and in the world around us.
There are no simple answers in Judaism to any question. Jewish law, Jewish beliefs, rituals and customs have been formed over a period of over 3,500 years. In addition, a primary teaching of Judaism is that each generation must study our law and heritage and implement these things as seems suitable for our own time, so we keep adding to this body of wisdom. Each time we try to answer a question, Jews have 3,500 years of teachings, traditions, ideas, writings, and philosophy to consider as well as the most modern teachings. Further complicating the problem is the fact that, in America today, the Jewish community is made up of a number of different Jewish groups, each with its own understanding of Jewish law.
Prior to the early 1800s, the world Jewish community was relatively united in its understanding of Jewish law. Although there were some different traditions for Jews who lived in Eastern Europe (called Ashkenazic Jews) and Jews living in Spanish speaking countries and in Arab countries (called Sephardic Jews), these differences were seen as relatively minor, matters more of local custom than of fundamental differences over issues of legal interpretation.
All that changed in the early 1800s when a segment of the German Jewish community created a congregation that abolished many traditional Jewish practices. The goal of this congregation was to reform Judaism so that Jews could retain their Jewish identity while living in the modern world. From this early effort, the Reform Movement was born.Reform Judaism was brought to the United States during the latter part of the 19th century, a time during which there was a major immigration of Germans into America. The other three movements in American Judaism Modern Orthodox, Conservative, and Reconstructionist developed, in large part, in reaction to the success of American Reform Judaism. Each of the movements has its own understanding of the way in which Jewish law is to be applied to Jewish life. Here is a quick look at how the movements differ:
1. Modern Orthodox Movement. Modern Orthodox Jews believe that Jewish law is binding on the individual because the laws were given to us by God. Jewish law cannot be changed; however, interpretation of the law can be expanded under the supervision of the foremost rabbinic legal authorities when circumstances warrant it.
An example, Jews may not make an electrical connection on the Sabbath. However, if one lives in a high rise apartment building, must one climb 15 flights of stairs on the Sabbath rather than take the elevator? (Pressing the button to indicate your floor creates an electrical connection.) The answer? The creation of Shabbat elevators. These are preset prior to the Sabbath to stop at every floor until after the Sabbath is over. In this way, an Orthodox Jew may ride in the elevator without breaking the law prohibiting the creation of an electrical connection.
2. Conservative Movement. Conservative Jews believe that Jewish law is binding. Jewish law can be changed, however, when the needs of modern society make such changes necessary. However, these changes must be made with care, and are undertaken only after sufficient study and discussion on the part of appropriate rabbinic authorities.
An example: After considerable study of traditional legal texts, the Conservative Movements Law Committee agreed that the ordination of women as rabbis was within the parameters of Jewish law. The first female Conservative rabbi was ordained in 1985, thirteen years after the ordination of the first female rabbi by the Reform Movement.
3. Reconstructionist Movement. This is an offshoot of the Conservative Movement. The founder of the Reconstructionist Movement, Rabbi Mordecai Kaplan, believed that traditional Jewish ritual practices and customs are binding, not because they were commanded by a deity but because they have been the heritage of the Jewish people for millennia. The Reconstructionist Movement teaches that Jewish law is a guide, but that new laws and new interpretations of existing law can evolve under appropriate rabbinic supervision when modern life suggests the necessity for such changes.
An example: The Reconstructionist Movement has been very supportive of openly gay and lesbian candidates for rabbinical ordination. This is in direct contrast to the policies of the Orthodox and Conservative Movements, which bar people who are openly gay or lesbian from rabbinic ordination.
4. Reform Movement. Reform Judaism teaches that Jewish law is a guide rather than a binding force on the individual. Reform Jews are challenged, through a teaching known as informed choice, to study Judaism and to chose those rituals and observances that seem most suited to their own needs. The Reform Movement regularly issues position statements on important Jewish practices and rituals. However, these positions are not binding.
An example: Some years ago, the Reform Movement decided that it would accept as Jewish any person who had either a Jewish mother or a Jewish father, as long as this person had a Jewish education, appropriate coming of age religious celebrations, and was willing to identify himself/herself exclusively with the Jewish people. The term for this policy is patrilineal descent. This was a major break with the other movements, which only accept as Jewish the child of a Jewish mother matrilineal descent.
The question of what makes a person Jewish hinges on this issue of matrilineal and patrilineal descent. For the majority of the Jewish community, someone who is the child of a Jewish mother is Jewish. For Reform Jews, and for some Reconstructionist Jews, patrilineal descent, with some conditions, may also be used to establish Jewish identity. From a Jewish legal point of view, one need not practice Judaism in order to be considered Jewish.
All of Jewish law is based on the material found in the Torah. The Torah, sometimes called the Five Books of Moses, is composed of the Biblical books of Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy. In the Jewish world, the entire Bible is referred to as the Tanach. The Tanach contains three sections: Torah, Neviim (Prophets), and Chetuvim (Writings). The first letters of these three sections T, N, CH provide the consonants for the acronym Tanach.
The non-Jewish world generally refers to these Biblical writings as The Old Testament. There is an understanding in the Christian world that the New Testament replaced the laws of the Old Testament, although many religious groups still regard Old Testament writings as holy. Because Jews do not believe that the New Testament replaced the laws of the Tanach, Jews do not refer to these writings as the Old Testament, but instead use the term Tanach or Hebrew Bible.
The Tanach is composed of 39 individual books divided into the three segments mentioned above. The Torah is considered to be the most sacred of the three divisions of the Hebrew Bible. According to tradition, there are 613 separate laws, commandments, in the Torah that God gave to the Jewish people. All of Jewish law begins with these commandments.
The five books of the Torah describe many things: the creation of the world, the creation of human beings, the creation of the Jewish people, and the experiences of the Jewish people up to the point at which they are about to enter the Promised Land of Canaan to settle it as a homeland. In historical terms, this brings us to about the year 1,000 B.C.E. (before the Common Era).
The second section of the Tanach, Neviim (Prophets), is composed of two different types of writings. Part One, often called The Former Prophets, contains historical narratives. These tell the story of Joshuas leadership of the Israelites in Canaan, the rise of the Judges of Israel, the development of Kingship in Israel, the building of the First Temple in Jerusalem, the destruction of the First Temple and the reign of the Kings of Israel until 561 B.C.E.
The second part of Neviim is called Latter Prophets. This is a collection of literary writings ascribed to individuals who were recognized as having prophetic gifts. The Latter Prophets itself is divided into two segments: the Major Prophets (Isaiah, Jeremiah, and Ezekiel) and the Minor Prophets. There are twelve different authors in the Minor Prophets, including Amos, Hosea, and Micah. The terms major and minor refer to the amount of literary output rather than to the importance of the authors.
Part Three of the Tanach, Chetuvim (Writings), is a compilation of literary works and late historical chronicles of the Jewish people ending about 400 B.C.E. The literary works comprise a wide selection of different types of material, including love poetry, Song of Songs; religious poetry, Psalms; philosophical writings, Job and Ecclesiastes; wisdom literature, Proverbs; and even comedy, The Book of Esther.
Unlike Christian editions of the Old Testament, the Tanach does not contain the books of Tobit, Judith, Maccabees, or Sirach. Although these books have Jewish themes, because they were not included in the Tanach, Jewish scholars rarely, if ever, studied these works. Even Maccabees, which deals with the historical events of Chanukkah, was not considered a holy book by Jews. For this reason, our understanding of the holiday of Chanukkah is based on accounts in the Talmud, an anthology of Jewish law and lore based on the Tanach and developed between 200 and 500 C.E. rather than on the historical accounts in Maccabees.
The term People of the Book is a name given by others to the Jewish people. The phrase refers to the centrality of the Torah to Jewish life. The Torah is understood by Jews to be the main guide for understanding how to live a life of blessing and goodness. For this reason, a favorite hymn based on Psalm 3:18 says of the Torah, It is a tree of life to those who hold fast to it, for holding fast to the Torah will give them peace.
The Torah is read four times a week in the synagogue according to a specific calendar of readings that are followed by all Jewish communities throughout the world. In addition, traditional Jewish teaching encourages each individual to study the weeks Torah portion three times during each week, twice in Hebrew, the original language of the Torah, and once in translation.
The Hebrew word Torah can be understood to mean both guidance and instruction and is sometimes also defined as teaching. When Jews speak of Torah, therefore, we may be referring to one of a number of different things.
A Torah may be the actual Torah scroll itself. The technical term for this scroll is sefer Torah, which means a book of Torah. In English, the term used when referring to a sefer Torah is Torah scroll. A Torah scroll is written by hand and contains the entire text of the first five books of the Hebrew Bible: Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy. A Torah scroll has no vowels and no punctuation. In ancient times, the words themselves were not separated.
A Torah can also be a printed book containing the first five books of the Bible. Such a book can be printed in any language, or in several different languages in Hebrew and English, for example. A printed Torah usually includes all the vowels and necessary punctuation for a correct reading of the text. Very often, such a book also contains explanations about the Biblical passages. Such a book is called a Torah Commentary.
The word Torah can also be used as a general term when referring to Jewish study. When a Jewish person says, Lets learn some Torah, the subject matter may or may not actually be the first five books of the Hebrew Bible. In previous article, we discussed why the Jewish people are called The People of the Book. In ancient times, the only type of Torah was a sefer Torah. Most books produced at that time were produced in scroll form. Scrolls were made up of a series of pages sewn together. These were then rolled so that they could be easily stored. Long documents were usually attached to one or two wooden rollers to make the work of rolling and unrolling them easier. Over time, some books began to be produced in the form of pages that could be bound into what we today call book form.
In 1436, Johannes Gutenberg, working in Mainz, Germany, began building a printing press that used movable metal type. In 1455, after two years of work, Gutenberg produced the first printed Bible, which had 42 lines of printing on each page. Gutenbergs invention revolutionized the world of printing and book making. The printing press was the computer of its day.
There was a very good reason why the Gutenberg Bible had 42 lines of printing on each page. The reason has to do with the way in which a sefer Torah is written.
A person who writes Torah scrolls as a profession is called a sofer. We translate this word in English as scribe. There are many laws and traditions that scribes follow when writing a sefer Torah for use in the synagogue. These laws and traditions may vary somewhat depending on the individual scribes country of origin.
Between the 8th and the 10th century C.E., Biblical scholars called masoretes developed a standardized Torah text for both the sefer Torah and the printed Torah text. The word masorete comes from a Hebrew word that means tradition, or that which has been transmitted.
Much of the work of the masoretes focussed on details of the sefer Torah and the printed Torah text. The masoretes established guidelines for the number of lines that should be in each column of a sefer Torah, which vowels should be used in a printed text, and the division of the text into sentences, sections, and chapters. While there are a number of different traditions about the actual number of lines a sefer Torah can have in each column, 42 lines became the preferred standard and continues to be so today.
The tradition of having a 42 line column comes from the Biblical book of Numbers. Chapter 33 describes the 42 separate stops that were made by the Israelites in their journey from Mt. Sinai, where they received the Torah, to the Plains of Moab on the banks of the Jordan River. A 42-line column also allows letters to be created that are large enough to read easily. By the time of the printing of the Gutenberg Bible, the tradition of a 42-line column in the Torah was well established as authentic.
All forms of the Torah are sacred to Jews. However, the sefer Torah is considered to be especially holy because of the extreme care that must be taken in its creation. A sefer Torah must be written by hand by a sofer (scribe) on the skin of a kosher animal. Most of the time, calfskin or sheepskin is used. However, an animal may not be killed for the purpose of using its skin to write a sefer Torah. Rather, the skin is taken only from an animal that has died or that has been slaughtered for food or for other uses. The sofer uses a goose quill or turkey quill to write the letters. The ink is made of natural vegetable and mineral products. The individual sheets of writing are sewn together with a thread made of animal sinew. When unrolled, a sefer Torah measures about half the length of a football field.
There are 304,805 letters in a Torah scroll. Each letter of the Torah must be read aloud or chanted before it is written. In addition, before beginning writing each day, the sofer must visit a ritual bath to enter a state of ritual purity before writing the holy words. A sefer Torah takes about a year to create. Traditionally, only men were professional scribes. However, today in the non-Orthodox Jewish community some women are beginning to enter the field.
The Tanach the Old Testament is a fruitful source of liturgical and spiritual inspiration for both Christians and Jews. The Priestly Benediction May the Lord Bless you and keep you is found in Numbers 6:2227. The phrase Holy, holy, holy is the Lord of Hosts, part of the Jewish prayer called the Kedusha (that which is holy), is from Isaiah 6:3. Its understandable that the Ten Commandments, with its slant on ethical rather than ritual laws, would be found suitable for Christian as well as Jewish theology.
The Ten Commandments are stated clearly in two different books of the Torah with minor variations: Exodus 20 and Deuteronomy 5. The major difference in the two statements is in the commandment relating to Sabbath observance. In Exodus, the Hebrew word used to refer to Sabbath observance is zachor, which means remember. In Deuteronomy, the Hebrew word used is shamor, which means guard. Because of this difference, Jews always light a minimum of two candles for Shabbat: one for zachor and one for shamor.
Most Christians and Jews assume that they know what the Ten Commandments are, which commandment is # 1, which is # 2, and so on. However, a closer investigation reveals several different ways of numbering the Ten Commandments.
For Jews, the First Commandment is I am the Lord your God who brought you out of the land of Egypt, the house of bondage. Much has been written about why this verse is understood as a commandment on its own. (Exploring this is an article in itself.) The most important idea relating to this commandment is the establishment of Gods identity that the Lord who is identified in this statement is the One who was the maker of the miracles of the Exodus.Christians, however, understand the First Commandment differently. In Catholic and Lutheran Bibles, for example, the First Commandment reads, I, the Lord, am your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, that place of slavery. You shall not have other gods besides me. You shall not carve idols for yourselves in the shape of anything in the sky above or on the earth below or in the waters beneath the earth; you shall not bow down before them or worship them. For I, the Lord your God am a jealous God (Translation: The New American Bible, Saint Joseph Edition.)
Here is a quick look at the Jewish and Christian variations of our shared Ten Commandments:
Even within Judaism itself, it was not always clear how the Ten Commandments were to be divided. Some scholars have suggested that there is another set of Ten Commandments in Exodus 34:1426. And most of the Ten Commandments are restated, along with some other commandments, in Leviticus 19! Clearly, numbers and counting were a creative exercise for Rabbinic commentators of the Torah.
I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the House of Bondage! Thus begins the famous catalogue of rules in Exodus 20 known as the Ten Commandments. These rules are restated again, with some minor variations, in Deuteronomy 5:6, and with some major changes in Leviticus 19. According to Jewish tradition, the Ten Commandments are part of the 613 commandments that are detailed in the Torah. These commandments are divided into negative and positive categories. There are 365 negative commandments and 248 positive commandments. All of the 613 Commandments are important to Jews because Jewish tradition views the commandments as Gods literal instructions to the Jewish people.
The definition of the Hebrew mitzvah is Commandment. Because many of the commandments require a Jewish person to perform ethical acts e.g., feeding the poor, providing shelter for the homeless, taking care of widows and orphans the word mitzvah is often popularly translated as good deed, although this is not the meaning of the word mitzvah in Hebrew.
All Jews over the age of twelve (women) or thirteen (men) are responsible for the performance of all 613 commandments. The good news is that several hundred of these commandments relate to offerings that are to be made in the Temple in Jerusalem. Since that Temple was destroyed in 70 C.E. by the Romans, a Jewish persons obligation for the performance of the Temple commandments is on hold until such time as the Temple is rebuilt. Since, at the present time, there is a mosque on the site where the ancient Temple stood, its unlikely that the Temple offerings will be re-established any time soon.
Some commandments can only be performed once a year. For example, Commandment 298 tells us not to do any work on the first day of Passover ( Leviticus 23:7). Some commandments are words to live by. For example, Commandment 240 tells us not to cause anyone embarrassment (Leviticus 19:17).
There are even commandments that are meant to be performed only once in a lifetime. The 613th commandment instructs us to write our own Torah. Most of us perform this by providing financial assistance to enable a Torah to be written.
While the 613 commandments are central to Jewish life, the Ten Commandments also have their own special place within Judaism.
Every society understands numbers in a unique way. For example, in America, consumers know that the difference between $9.99 and $10.00 is only one penny. However, storeowners know that a $9.99 price tag will generate more sales than a $10.00 price tag.
What would a visitor from a different culture think about $9.99 and $10.00? For someone who does not share modern American cultural attitudes towards numbers and money, creating a difference between $9.99 and $10.00 would probably seem very strange.
How much more puzzling are the numbers in the Bible to us! Numbers are part of all human experiences. They measure our life span, the number of people in a group, the number of days in a holiday, length of a monarchs rule. There are hundreds of numbers in the Bible. What do they mean?
In many societies throughout time, numbers have meanings beyond their plain numerical value. For example, in Jewish mysticism, the numbers three and seven are understood to have strong spiritual power. Mystics believe that proper manipulation of numbers is a vital part of worship and connection to the Divine.
In the Hebrew Bible, there are two numbers that are mentioned very frequently: 40 and 70. Most scholars believe that Biblical numbers are symbolic rather than actual. In other words, these numbers 40 and 70 represent concepts which were understood in Biblical times, just as we understand the difference between $9.99 and $10.00.
And the rain fell on the earth forty days and forty nights. (Genesis 7:12). and Moses remained on the mountain forty days and forty nights. (Exodus 24:18). And they returned from spying out the land after forty days. (Numbers 13:25).
Much has been written about what the number forty symbolizes. Looking at these verses, we might speculate that forty is a number that represents an appropriate length of time for certain sacred actions to take place, in this instance, judgement.
Judgement in the Bible comes in different forms. Judgement can mean punishment, as in the incident of the flood. Judgement can refer to a change of plans by God. Originally, all Israelites were going to go to Canaan. However, after the incident of the Golden Calf, the time in the desert was increased to forty years so that all the people who were adults in Egypt would die before the Israelites entered Canaan. Judgement can also mean "to make a determination using all the available facts. The spies were asked to judge whether or not the land of Canaan was a suitable home for the Israelites.
The number 70, on the other hand, is used to suggest a different idea. The total number of persons that were of Jacobs issue came to seventy. (Exodus: 1:5). Gather for Me seventy of Israels elders (Numbers 11:16). It shall come to pass..that Tyre shall be forgotten for seventy years (Isaiah 23:15).
Seventy in the Bible seems to be a number that symbolizes completeness and totality. When the Torah says that Jacob had seventy children, it seems to be saying that he was extremely prolific! The seventy elders, is a theme which is repeated many times in the Torah. It seems to stand for the gathering of all the wisest people. The suffering of Tyre for seventy years is followed by its complete redemption; as the suffering is total, so will the redemption be total.
When Jews study the Bible, we understand that we can read Gods words on many different levels. On the simple level of the written word, numbers are just numbers. However, we are also free to look at numbers as symbols for specific ideas, like judgement and totality. When we do this, it adds to our understanding and appreciation of the Holy words.
The Jewish view of the Garden of Eden story and the concept of original sin are quite different from those of most Christians and can be understood in many different ways. The following column presents one view of how Jews understand and teach the story of Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden.
Nothing written here is meant to judge the truth of any particular religious understanding of the Garden of Eden story or any other holy text or religious teaching. As a modern Jew, I do not judge the validity of the teachings of any other faith. Rather, I see the religious world as a glorious tapestry of faith given to us all by the Holy One. In such a tapestry, there can be no concept of right or wrong, for each thread is precious to the Creator.
Gerald Ostroot of Holiday Island, Arkansas writes: The Genesis account of Adam and Eve is viewed by almost all Christians through the Augustinian interpretation of original sin a perfect nature was perverted to one of sin and disobedience. How does Judaism view these events?
A close reading of the text in Genesis 2:253:24 is very revealing. Nowhere in the text does God mention the concept of sin. Rather, Gods attitude toward Adam and Eve is that of a parent who discovers that a child has done something that he or she was told not to do. Disobeying a parent is not a sin, although doing so may incur punishment. Like a good parent, God rebukes the three parties involved in the transgression: the snake, the woman, and the man, and punishes them appropriately. However, after punishing Adam and Eve, the Torah tells us that God took care of them, making garments for them and clothing them. This is an act of a compassionate parent, not a vengeful God.
The banishment from Eden is a story that explains why human beings suffer and die one of humankinds eternal questions. However, with our banishment and the mortality that accompanies it, we are also given an extraordinary gift that of bringing life into the world. Despite her transgression, Eve becomes the mother of all life. Her Hebrew name Chavah means life.
Although Eden is painted in commentaries as a perfect world, Eden posed certain problems for the man and the woman. In Eden, neither Adam nor Eve had any ability to affect their surroundings. There was no way for them to improve their environment or to make their lives better, because, by definition, their lives were perfect. In modern terms, we would say that they had no meaningful work to do. The good life was too good. The traditional rabbinic commentators, in seeking to explain the story of Eden, looked for the meaning behind the behavior of Adam, Eve, and the serpent. A typical example of this approach is the story that Rabbi Judah taught in the name of Rabbi Levi.
Rabbi Judah relates that the serpent told Eve that eating from the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil enabled God to create the world. According to the serpent, God didnt want Adam and Eve to eat from the Tree because God didnt want them to be able to create new worlds and go into competition with God!
A very interesting aspect of the story of Adam and Eve is that Adam and Eves reaction to Gods punishment is not recorded. What was Eves response to Gods specific punishment for her?
Most of the stories in the Torah are seen through a male perspective. Therefore, Eves punishment to have a sexual attraction to her husband, to suffer in the childbirth that will result from this attraction, and to be subservient to her husband is portrayed as the worst possible punishment a woman could receive a curse.
For many women, however, the sweetness of holding ones newly born child is ample compensation for the pain of childbirth. Even Eve, when she first holds Cain in her arms, says, I have gained a male child with the help of the Lord. Her words suggest that the birth of her child is a blessing, rather than a curse.
In Judaism, having satisfying sex within marriage is part of a womans marital rights, guaranteed by her marriage contract. Love and sexuality are considered blessings. Women are not the slaves of their husbands, completely subject to their husbands will, and may not be abused by them. Children are viewed as a gift and a joy. Because of this, for Jews, Eves punishment is not viewed as a tragedy, but rather as a gift that enhances our joy.
As Jews, we do not believe that we bear hereditary responsibility or a special taint because of Adam and Eves actions. Our understanding is that only the person who breaks Gods laws is to be punished.
This idea is clearly detailed in the Torah. The Israelites who worshipped the Golden Calf were doomed to travel through the desert until they died because they could not adjust to freedom. Their children, however, were permitted to enter the Promised Land. The Torahs point of view is clarified even further by the verse in Deuteronomy 24:16 that states, Parents shall not be put to death for children, nor children be put to death for parents. Even in the statement of the second of the Ten Commandments, which seems to suggest that punishment for serving gods other than the Lord can go beyond the individual, such punishment is limited to the third or fourth generation, while the reward for faithful service extends to the thousandth generation. For all these reasons, the Christian concept of original sin is not part of Jewish theology.